If you have kids who say they want tattoos, let me talk to them…it turns out those things don’t ever go away!!
Saying I was rebellious when I was young is quite an understatement. While I know that part of it was just the way I was and still am wired, there were also very specific situations that carried me over the line from rebellious to whatever the word is when ‘rebellious’ is no longer sufficient. I won’t go through each of these events now, but one of the big things that shaped who I am is my culture and heritage. I am a first generation, Palestinian-American, raised Catholic, and born to two very conservative, very traditional parents. I learned from a very early age that what I was expected to want out of life, according to my culture, and what I actually wanted out of life, were completely different. The expectation was that I would get married, make babies, and be a good wife and mother. SIDE NOTE: My parents and I grew out of the phase of hating each other around the time I went to college, and we are still extremely close…back to naughty Rania.
At the ripe old age of 15, I decided I was going to get a tattoo, and so I did–a classy, psychedelic-looking sunflower with a basketball in the middle that I had placed on my lower, right hip. I was so proud of it and feeling even more ballsy than usual, so I decided to get yet another tattoo. Because, you know, what 15-year-old doesn’t need a two tattoos?? About two weeks after my first, I got a tattoo of a bright green frog, holding a basketball of course, directly in the middle of my right ass cheek.
For months I was looking over my shoulder, making sure every door was locked. Gone were the days of running around the house in a sports bra and sweat pants. I was completely paranoid that my mom was going to catch me changing, and the cat would be out of the bag. So I did what any teenage kid would do…I told her the truth and swore her to secrecy. I made her promise she wouldn’t yell at me, ground me, and especially, that she would not tell my dad. It was such an unfair ask, but after she had sufficiently tried to scrub the tattoo off my hip, she kept my secret. For months and months, whenever my dad was around, she would hide her anger and frustration and disappointment, at least until he left the room.
But then one day, God got bored and wanted a laugh at my expense. We found out during my sophomore year of high school that I had a heart condition that would cause me to pass out. The three times I did pass out were during or immediately after a game. The doctors and specialists ran tests and drew blood, and eventually, through the miracle of medicine, everything was under control. That was all until I came down with an sinus infection and had to take antibiotics that counteracted with my heart medication. I passed out in the hallway of my high school, and as luck would have it, the school nurse on duty that day knew my dad, so after calling 911, she called my dad to come to the school–this is particularly interesting because from grade school through high school, if there was ever a parent called, it was always my mom. Here’s where God’s sense of humor reaches epic proportion…the ambulance arrived, and as they were lifting me from the wheelchair to the stretcher my sweater came up just enough to expose my lovely body art to my dad. I was passed out, so I had no idea that had happened. But when I woke up in the hospital and saw my dad’s face, I immediately knew that he knew…and I was in trouble. As certain as I was that my dad was going to kill me, he didn’t. He did, however, let me test drive my dream car just before my 16th birthday and then let me know I wasn’t getting it because of the tattoo…that fun little game continued for months. But I did survive, and I made it all the way to my 20s without my parents knowing about the frog tattoo.
How, you may wonder, would my mom ever see the frog on my butt?? Funny story…I was married once. I’m now happily divorced, but there leading up to the wedding, the Middle Eastern culture dictates a big fancy engagement party must take place. I pretty much came out of the womb a tomboy, wearing basketball shorts. I’m the only girl my parents have, and all my mom has ever wanted was a pink loving, pearl wearing, frills and lace embracing, girly girl, but instead, she got stuck with me. So you can imagine her excitement at her getting to put me in a dress, and I wasn’t going to fight her on it–well not much anyway. She came home with at least 15 dresses, and I swear if I could have worn all of them in the same night she would have been in heaven. I couldn’t of course, so we started a marathon session of trying on dresses. Dress 11 was this skin tight, spaghetti strap dress that looked like a mix of a sunset and someone had spilled rainbow sherbet all over it. The whole damn thing was pretty much different shades of pink (to this day, I don’t do pink unless I’m tricked into it), and I knew that there was not a chance that I would wear it in public. But to humor my mom and see her smile, I put the thing on. I walked out of her bedroom, and while she may have had tears in her eyes, they didn’t last long. My mom said “Oh Rania, you look so beautiful…why can’t you just look like a lady this one night??” And then she asked me to do a little turn. “Wait…turn around again…” and all of a sudden my mom’s face was just inches from my ass, “You have a tattoo on your butt??!! Oh my gosh!! What is wrong with you??!! You let some tattoo man look at your butt??!!!” It took me the better part of the next 3 years to convince her that I did not decide to get tattoo on my rear end as an adult, and certainly would not have chosen a frog holding a basketball at that point in my life. I had to walk her through it no fewer than 100 times before she finally believed me. Regardless, she was mortified and also just couldn’t believe that she was so oblivious for so many years.
Now let’s fast forward about 9 years from that little incident to present day. In my current state, my mom has to help me do everything–go to the bathroom, bedroom, or anywhere else I need to go. She has to help me stand up, sit down, prop my legs up…you get the picture. The day before yesterday, I finally got so sick of being a greasy mess and decided that somehow, I was going to take a shower. My mom and dad’s good friends brought over a shower seat for me to use, which was very helpful. But my mom still had to get my undressed and situated in said shower seat. My mom hasn’t seen me naked since I was a kid, and she has never seen the frog outside of that day she saw it through that monstrosity of a dress. I was in so much pain during the whole ordeal of preparing to take a shower that none of this even crossed my mind. I finally got out of the shower, dressed, and back to my horizontal position on the couch when it occurred to me that my mom had just seen me completely naked! “Did she see the tattoo? Is she upset all over again because she’s just been reminded what an awful kid I was?? Is she feeling that deep-rooted disappointment that she always felt when I was a kid? Oh poor mom!!” All things that cross the mind of someone who is not only incapable of releasing that proverbial Catholic guilt, but is also on pain meds. After going back and forth with myself for a couple of hours, I decided the best thing I could do would be to just ask her, so I did…she didn’t even notice it and had forgotten about it!
The moral of this story…don’t get tattoos of amphibians on your butt or anywhere else for that matter. Don’t forget that you won’t play sports your entire life, so maybe it’s not a great idea to get your sport permanently tattooed on your body. And there’s a reason 15-year-olds should not get anything permanently placed on their body!! Lesson learned, and in case I ever forget it, I have my darling parents who say things like, “I can’t wait until you have kids! And when YOUR daughter says she wants a tattoo, I’m going to make sure she sees your first two!”
Yesterday had the potential to be so unbelievably miserable. I woke up in worse pain than I was having even when it was really awful in the hospital…you know when they ask you, “on a scale from 1-10, where is your pain?” Well mine was at 15, and it seems my body wasn’t really digging it either because I couldn’t stop puking for most of the day. I’m not much of a crier, but I had huge, baby girl tears running down my face. And of course, my amazing mother who wants nothing more than for me to feel okay, was just beside herself because she didn’t know how to help me. Between the pain and the puking and reality of not being able to move a whole lot, I was starting to lose it. And as mentally tough as I can be, I can also be the grand master of the pity parties. I was headed in that pity party direction–I was feeling miserable and worthless, and the questions started in my head…What if it takes longer than expected to recover? What if I never do anything meaningful with my life ever again? What if I can never run again? What if the pain never goes away? Are the “random security searches” I’m always subjected to when I travel by plane going to get worse because I now have a plate and two screws in my right leg? Will the sky fall? Will I be in such bad shape that I won’t be able to watch the Dr. Who Anniversary Special? Okay, so maybe no so much the last couple…but you get the picture.
The doctor made me change all of my medications, which sent my mom and dad all over town trying to get that done as efficiently as possible–thank you Mom and Dad for running around town and helping to make me feel better!!! And just as I was rounding the corner into the land of Irrationalville, the messages and calls started.
My fairy godmother called and talked to me until my parents got back from their multiple pharmacy trips. She stayed on the phone and distracted me from the pain and sadness I was feeling. She and I don’t get to talk as much anymore because our schedules have been crazy over the past year, so getting that much time was a small miracle in and of itself. My fairy godmother, who will come up often, saved me from the abusive relationship I was in, and then she helped me find myself again. And talking to her reminds me that not only do I have the strength to overcome just about anything, I have the support and love around me to help me along the way…she also turned me into a girl, which of course, formed an instant love connection between she and my mother, but that’s another story for another time.
Shortly after, I found out one of my very best friends was cutting his trip to LA short and coming back through Lubbock earlier than expected. And his new arrival time just so happened to be the day that I was on the verge of a meltdown. He and I co-parent three, four-legged furry babies (2 girls and 1 boy…dogs), and this accidental, perfectly timed trip meant I was going to get to see my son too! I have a cousin who swears that I love animals more than humans, and maybe sometimes it’s true. But look at these faces…they just want to love and cuddle and be sweet. Leo even wanted to help me get my work done, and the three of them together is just love and happiness at it’s finest.
A little bit later in the day, I got the most wonderful message from a woman that I have looked up to for a lot of years. When I was in college, I worked as a TA for elementary-aged children with Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Up until that point, I never thought I could teach. I thought that my patience was far too thin, and there were entirely too many ways that I could really mess up a kid’s life. Then I met this spectacular teacher and her amazing students. I fell in love with all of them, and they taught me how big of an impact teachers can have on their student’s lives. This experience led me to teaching overseas and helping some of my students seek out the freedom they had only dreamed about before. This experience also led to my teaching teenagers who had been in trouble with the law in Travis County. Some of those kids had never in their lives been told they were smart or capable or special. They had just been passed on from class to class, believing they were “thugs” or they were “bad” because that is all they had every been told. I was able to break through that barrier over and over, and it is in large part because of this person who taught me the importance of teaching so many years before. She changed my life, and she inspired me. And yesterday she told me that I was her hero.
Fast forward a couple of hours, and I received a text message from my older brother. At this point, my mom had told him all about my day, that I was puking, etc. My brother put on adult, pink footy pajamas that were fashioned to look like the rabbit PJs Ralphie got in A Christmas Story, complete with the Red Ryder BB Gun. He took a picture and texted it to me just to make me laugh (I will decide by the end of this post whether or not I am going to include that amazing little gem my brother shared with me, or if I’ll save him the humiliation). My brothers and I have always been very close. We’ve had our ups and downs like all sibling, but mostly, people look at us like we’re so weird because we actually love being around each other. My brothers have always been my best friends. They’ve always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. And while our family is very traditional in so many ways (something I’m sure I will write about in future posts), no one has supported me more than or encouraged me more than my brothers…what a great reminder of how lucky I am to have parents and brothers who don’t find my whining and complaining to be absolutely annoying!
When I was in New York a couple of weeks ago with my cousin (who’s really more like my sister) and her amazing girlfriend, we got a lot done…we celebrated her birthday Texas-style in Brooklyn, went to this oddly wonderful church that was housed in an old theater, did some home improvement projects (where I’m fairly certain her girlfriend thought we were insane and would be headed to the emergency room…but really, who needs a vice grip when using a circular saw??), made a great dinner and watched football, and we somehow got onto the subject of how amazing corn dogs are and that as adults, we should be enjoying them much more…she texted me saying that while she can’t get my favorite New York delicacy, Gray’s Papaya,to me, she could ship me some amazing corn dogs! Seriously…who has family like that?!
When I arrived in North Dakota in early September of 2012, I was supposed to be there for a few months, and that was it. When it was time to go, the hardest and most shocking thing was just how sad I was to leave. I left North Dakota with a lot of new friends and new family. One of my closest friends was kind enough to share his parents with me while I was there. They invited me in and made me feel at home. When his father passed away earlier this year, we were all devastated. But he, his mom, and I continued to be close, maybe even closer. Today, she sent me the most beautiful card, wishing for me to get well, and reminding me that she loves me and thinks about me all the time. I just love this woman so much, and her kind words were so sweet and so perfectly timed…just another reason to be grateful.
All of this, on top of the countless phone calls, emails, and text messages from friends and family. Then there were visits from friends and family. It’s just nice to see their faces, but they never come empty handed–flowers and cakes and cards, and one of my sweet friends and her husband even brought Chicken Express because she knew how awful the hospital food was! No, things aren’t exactly great or how I pictured they’d be right now. But holy crap that’s a lot of love from so many amazing people. And while pretending that everything is perfect isn’t really my style, I do know I have so much to be grateful for, and that is pretty good inspiration to hold onto a positive attitude and maybe let those rainbows and unicorns stick around for a bit longer.
I thought that eventually I would come around to talking about my past and surviving an abusive relationship; I just didn’t think it was going to be this soon. For quite a while, it was something I didn’t talk about and tried to hide because it was embarrassing, and even more than that, I couldn’t believe that I was ever in that situation. As much as I tried to bury it and be that strong independent woman everyone had come to expect, it was there. It was in my nightmares, in the physical scars on my body, and in my memories. No matter how hard I tried to force it out of my consciousness, there it was. And after I accepted that no matter how hard I ran, that part of my life would always be there, I accepted also that I was not the only one. There were and are women just as strong and even stronger who didn’t know how to deal with being a “victim” of anything much less abuse. There were and are people who’s stories are much more horrendous than mine. As my “Fairy Godmother” once told me (she’ll come back in future posts), “…even if we can help just one person, all of those horrible things served a purpose.” These truths are part of the reason that I want to start this non-profit and part of why this will always be a driving factor of who I am.
I came home from the hospital earlier today. The surgery went great, but I can’t remember feeling this kind of physical pain. I was supposed to go home yesterday, but they didn’t want to until my pain was under control. So they changed some things around, upped some doses, and now I’m at home. I’m still having some pain, and I haven’t been able to sleep. Through one of those freak things that sometimes happen in life, the awful and abusive ex from my past was thrust into my present. We’re going to call him AP for now–I may get more brave later. AP wasn’t only physically abusive, he was also manipulative, psychotic, narcissistic, sociopathic, and controlling. He is a con artist, and while I have physical scars to remind me of that awful time in my life, there are people that he has conned out of money, contacts, and so much more. Until I got help, he had hijacked my life and all the things about me that made me that person I am. And I know he has done the same to others. He’s screwed over so many people. He’s beaten me to the point of not being able to move, and he’s conned a lot of people out of a lot of money–yet he is still out there. How is it that he can be such an awful human being–so abusive in so many ways, yet he still walks freely and without care or concern? I used to rest comfortably with the belief that justice is always served…eventually. I really did believe that one day, he would get his because he’s a bad person who did bad things. One day that bullshit facade of his built of bible verses and borrowed contacts would come crumbling down, and everyone would see him for the fraudulent abuser he really is.
But tonight I lay here, trying to will the pain in my leg away, and realizing that it is entirely possible that he will never feel the pain he made me feel or the pain he inflicted on anyone else. It is completely possible that he may not “get his,” and he will die when he’s 100 years old because of old age. So what does that mean for me…well, I am realizing that I’m not “all better” when it comes to this. The emotional scars are still there and still hurt. But I’m not scared anymore. And while it could be said that I’m wasting time even writing about AP now, I will not allow any more of my life be wasted on him. I won’t look over my shoulder. I won’t be scared. And I won’t ever allow anyone to steal my joy, my independence, or my voice ever again.
Maybe the most important thing in all is not how much better I’m doing, or the progress that I’ve made. It is that an absolutely horrible situation drove me to do everything I can to help people who would otherwise not have a voice. No, I’m not all better, and yes, I still feel the effects of AP. But I have taken those emotions and made them the source of my strength and the driving force behind my passion. There are a lot of different kinds of abuse–emotional, physical, financial, verbal, mental, sexual and so many more. The abusers aren’t always who you would expect, and the same is true for the victims. It’s not black and white, and none of it is easily explained. From sex trafficking to domestic abuse, “why doesn’t she just leave him,” does not apply. I will go more into my work with victims of abuse and how Freedom Is A Right will continue that work, but for the moment, it is important for me to remember that as awful as that time in my life was, it too served a purpose.
I love to write and have written for a number of publications, but I’ve never had my own blog. I’ve also had this dream to start a non-profit that focuses on the empowerment and restoration of victims of poverty-related abuses, especially human trafficking. I want to call it Freedom Is A Right.
The problem is that I have spent the majority of my adult life working 80-100 hour weeks, and I’ve just never quite left time for myself or to do anything that I wanted to do. Yes, I’m what some might call a workaholic, so imagine my surprise when all of a sudden, the pain in my knees was so severe I couldn’t run anymore (oh yes, I was a runner), and then I couldn’t walk stairs without pain, or sit or stand without pain. After finally going to the doctor and getting multiple opinions, it was official. My legs and knees were just completely shot from years of sports and running, and, while my parents don’t like to admit it, heredity. So fast forward a bit. I came home to the charming city of Lubbock, Texas and had the first round of surgeries on my knees (yes, both knees). The next surgery, and hopefully the last, is this coming Friday. It’s going to be more intensive and require even more downtime–just the thought is almost enough to make me crazy. But in considering how I was going to manage and navigate this involuntary time of “rest” I remembered all of the things that I’ve always wanted to do and never did.
I fully expect this blog to be disjointed and all over the map. I don’t expect that very many people will read it, but I honestly don’t care. I’m not reading up on “how to start a blog” or the “top 10 mistakes new bloggers make” or whatever else might be out there because at the end of the day, this is for me. And if there’s something in there that appeals to, inspires, empowers, or hell, even pisses someone off, I’ll just consider that icing on my proverbial cake! That being said, this won’t be all about human trafficking, it won’t all be political, and it won’t all be uniform from one day to the next. I love to write…in my past life I reviewed movies, restaurants, and different products. I’ll probably do some of that. I’ll probably also throw a pitty party or two for myself, and more than a few rants about political or social injustice should be expected. But just as a reminder, this is mine and for me, and if you don’t like it, don’t read it!